Supported by an a-n Re:View bursary, this blog will be a record of my conversations with Glasgow-based environmental artist duo, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto. Our time together included a visit to their base at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios and their current field-based environmental project at the Black Wood of Rannoch, one of the few remaining patches of the original Caledonian Pine Forest.

This is appropriate at a time when my creative practice is involved with deeper, process-led research investigations, relating to ecologically stressed situations and environmental change (climate instability, biodiversity decline, re-wilding etc). My intermedia installations are immersive scenographic spaces that aim to reveal hidden, symbolic and ecological aspects of landscapes. With Tim and Reiko, I will discuss approaches and framings for such work.

Tim Collins and Reiko Goto are environmental artists, researchers and authors working together since 1985. They have sustained a research-based approach to art that has focused on the aesthetic conditions of the post-industrial public realm with specific attention to environmental systems such as rivers, forests, and landscapes. Their most recent work engages the invisible impact of clouds of carbon dioxide on trees.


Waking up to Glasgow sunshine, I was transported by my generous hosts to the world of The Black Wood of Rannoch – away from the city, from books, research questions; away from mentalism to direct experience of this forest field-site for their eco-artistic research. This first report is based on a sequence of photographs:

Arriving at The Black Wood, I was given the space to explore the terrain on my own. Very soon, I found myself tuning in to the rich soundscapes, resisting an urge to make recordings – which I felt would have partly removed me from the immediate experience. I was also drawn to the delicate fine-grained material textures around me, especially the abundant lichen growth.

I was struck too by the strong yet subtle presence of human cultural artifacts, the juxtaposition (with the lifeworld of the woods) made all the more resonant by the slow gradual convergence of these worlds – artificial and biological.

When I re-connected with Reiko and Tim in the heart of the wood, there was a quality of at-ease-ness in our conversing, pondering, sensing, observing, touching. In the past, I have listened to Reiko speak of her deep empathic connection to the natural world, to the lifeworld. This has been central to her artistic practice and underpins all the work of Collins&Goto Studio.

There was ample time later for continuing our dialogues on eco-art and contemporary creative practice (to be covered in the next blog-post). For now, reaching the edges of the Black Wood, I was particularly struck by the incongruous presence of an abandoned indoor swimming pool, and some of its amazing ancillary structures such as a long timber flume. It was not so much the ruinous decay that interested me but maybe a sense that these architectural forms had gained something through their conversation with the living ecosystem of the wood. And yes, this is a watery site, revealing a facet of our deep social connection with water – for me a topic of ongoing creative research (such as this new Hydrocitizens project, my residency on the Severn Estuary Coast, and work I created in a village clothes-washing house in Portugal last year). I would like to come back to this place.


There is much more to be said, written, digested, but – in the spirit of the Black Wood – this will be a slow-blog process…






Both Collins&Goto’s and my own creative practice occupy a terrain which can loosely be called Environmental Art or EcoArt, though I would also embrace other terms such as geopoetics, deep-mapping and intimate science.

As a framework for our Re:View conversations, these are some broad themes: Sharing experience of grappling with the complexities of trans-disciplinary art+science practice. When dealing with eco-data, how does one cope with the constant pressure of information overload? With complex projects involving a variety of participants, how to maintain the integrity of the core creative threads?

To get the ball rolling, I’m offering up some exploratory questions and topics:

EcoArt and artistic research. Especially the area of durational field-based research and collaboration (with scientists, landscape managers etc.)

For me this increasingly popular term, artistic research combines the experiential and cerebral. The combination of imagination and eco-knowledge/data is what I sometimes describe as geopoetics – especially coming from a background in the geosciences. Can Artistic research provide counter-narratives in nature/culture knowledge-making and relationships ?

EcoArt and landscape ecology/ bioregionalism/ sense-of-place.
This topic has a host of antecedents, ranging from Thoreau and Leopold across to the influential activities of Common Ground, and including too the concept of the genius loci. The essence is the idea – and ideal – of site-specificity, and I would also include the multifaceted processes of deep mapping and land-art within this topic.

EcoArt and the uneasy relationship with technology and the digital realms. Arguably most scientific practice and manifestations of EcoArt rely on industrially-based science and technology. Tensions therefore arises because the destructive force of this juggernaut is what EcoArt then seeks to counter. Therein lies a Catch-22?

EcoArt and ecological ‘intimate science’. Roger Malina (of Leonardo) describes this as “helping to make science intimate, sensual, intuitive”. The collaboration between environmental science and art is often over-simplified. For me it is a co-mingled, braiding of knowledges, dependent on long-term learning and experimentation. Increasingly, there are ‘hybrid’ individuals and ensembles that combine a deep understanding of both ecological and creative realms.

EcoArt and art-science divergences. There is much common ground, but some significant differences: In art – deliberate de-focussing (and re-focussing), juxtaposition, counterpoint/resistance, use of metaphor/ analogy and embrace of chance/serendipity.

EcoArt, psychogeography and walking. Investigations meander, are deflected and metamorphose, yet one is never completely without a rudder. Extending this topic into the realms of dada-ism, (maybe even even shamanism in some cases) exposes a gulf between artistic and scientific research – the former involving deliberate introductions of chance, disruption and discomfort to open the door to new influences?

EcoArt, politics and environmental justice. A sense of ‘mission’ in an eco-social sphere. The subversion of the dominant paradigm and a challenge to a commodification of the ecosphere. Liberation, resistance, disruption – these are terms often used in this regard, and not just for EcoArt, but for the whole project of contemporary art. EcoArt is often about engendering, fostering or shaping change.

EcoArt and participation/social-engagement. A core driver is influencing ‘hearts and minds’. Social involvements in a project’s development are crucial. For meaningful growth (of ideas, knowledges, sensibilities), there needs to be flexibility in the definitions of engagement and involvement. Durational relationship-building is a characteristic of resonant EcoArt projects that leave a meaningful legacy.

EcoArt and aesthetics/ poetics/ metaphor. An aesthetic sensibility is also to be found within science, but – unlike art practice – isn’t at the core of its thinking or ethos. Added to this divergence is a sensuous relationship to materials, their appearance, textures etc. Further stretching the gap between art and science is the use of materials as signs and symbols for complex ideas and situations. I favour the term eco-symbolic materials, and have incorporated examples in site-specific works, to help make imaginative and perhaps subconscious leaps, whilst referencing myth, ritual and local knowledge. There is some connection here to the ‘social sculpture’ of Joseph Beuys, and more contemporaneously, Jane Bennett’s ‘vibrant materials’; also Levi Bryant’s idea of ‘bright objects’ being always split between two domains – virtuality and actuality.

EcoArt and process-based practice. This is the embrace of temporality and the intrinsic value of investigative experience itself. Not limited to EcoArt, this de-materialisation, de-commodification is also a resistance to the market and object fetishization. A celebration of (counter-)mapping over the map. The verb over the noun. A physical manifestation is not avoided; but not presumed nor predetermined. Documentation may suffice. The making is there for prompting a shift – in attitude, understanding, energy.